Two of European poker’s most durable hoodoos went head to head tonight in the Czech Republic as the EPT Prague Main Event reached its thrilling conclusion. With a prize of more than €1 million on offer to the winner of a 1,154-entry tournament, the last two players left were Mikalai Pobal, of Belarus, and Norbert Szecsi, of Hungary.
No man has ever won two EPT Main Event titles, but Pobal already had one, having triumphed in Barcelona in 2012. (Victoria Coren Mitchell was the only player ever to have won twice.) Meanwhile, nobody from Hungary had ever won an EPT Main Event, despite Hungarians finishing second on four occasions. With history guaranteed, the two played a rapid-fire heads up battle, concluding at around 6pm local time and with Pobal putting his name in the record books.Nobody could have expected this. After winning so brilliantly in Barcelona, Pobal had shrunk from view and, by his own admission, doesn’t even play much live poker anymore. But the 35-year-old won a package to this event on PokerStars for €50 and decided to have a family holiday in Prague. He didn’t do much sightseeing as he’s been stuck to the poker table for six days, but now has €1,005,600 and a second title — becoming only the second player ever to achieve the feat.
“I’ve thought about it a lot, but it was always just in my dreams and my hopes,” Pobal said. “Today they have come true. It’s great.”
He added that he had spent the first part of the final table just watching the tournament pass him by, until a remarkable run of cards propelled him to the top.
“Every level I was card dead,” he said. “It was just the last two levels that I saw so many good hands and so many spots to increase my stack. I used them, and won.”
Szecsi, who has two World Series bracelets, missed out on his first EPT, and keeps the Hungarian trophy cabinet bare. He wins €598,880, but with his countryman and double runner-up Marton Czuczor watching from the sidelines, they must be wondering if they’ll ever break through.
Though only five players came back today, their extremely deep stacks meant there was still plenty of play in the tournament, with nobody out of contention. That fact was underlined early in proceedings, when Tomas Paiva, the overnight short stack, doubled through the chip leader Gaby Livshitz and put the entire field with between 34 and 91 big blinds. (On the hand in question, Paiva flopped a flush with K♥J♥ to beat Livshitz’ A♠Q♣.)
Though the chip lead subsequently changed hands a number of times, Paiva had unknowingly hit his high point for the day. He then slid back to the bottom of the pile and was eliminated in fifth place anyway, when the hearts came back to hurt him. In his last hand, he flopped top pair with his Q♣8♣ on the 8♠5♥4♥ and he and Livshitz got it in, with Livshitz holding J♥6♥. The 8♥ turn hit Livshitz and left Paiva looking for a full house, but the 6♣ river was a blank. Paiva won €241,230 for fifth.
Miraculously, it turned out to be Livshitz who followed Paiva to the payouts desk, even though the Israeli reclaimed the chip lead, and held on to it for most of the next two hours. However, Livshitz was on the wrong end of two coolers and was knocked out by Pobal, whose surge truly began in earnest.
Pobal’s pocket queens held up against Livshitz’ pocket tens, and shortly after the pair got involved in another hand played blind on blind. Livshitz limped from the small blind with A♦Q♠ and would have been delighted when Pobal raised from the big blind. Livshitz called and the flop came queen high.
Livshitz had every right to think he was now going to double back up again when all the chips flew in, but Pobal was sitting with A♠A♣ and this cooler was especially icy. Livshitz, who came into the day as the chip leader, was the second man out of the door. His €316,780 for fourth will seem scant consolation.
With three left, Pobal was now challenging for the chip lead for the first time in the tournament, jostling with Szecsi at the top of the counts. The third wheel was Brazil’s Ricardo Da Rocha, whose plight seemed helpless in the face of two dominating opponents. The only issue was which of them would pick him off, and we soon got our answer when Da Rocha shoved the button with A♠J♥ and the hole-card cameras showed Szecsi with A♦Q♣. Szecsi called, Pobal folded and the better hand held up through a board of blanks. Da Rocha’s showing earned him €421,450, a career high.
That left us with the most intriguing of heads up battles in which Szecsi had a narrow lead. That said, they each had more than 100 big blinds, so the prospect of a lengthy duel remained. They talked about doing a deal, but dismissed it, and that ensured the winner would get more than €1 million, for the first time at EPT Prague.
As can sometimes be the case, the fates then conspired to get things over quickly. Perhaps eager to get things done, Szecsi made a three-barrelled bluff with a missed straight draw, but Pobal had flopped two pair and went nowhere. It gave Pobal a massive chip lead. Then only a few minutes later, Szecsi had pocket eights when Pobal had pocket kings and everything went in.
The kings held and history was made. The family holiday was rerouted back to the Hilton Hotel as Pobal’s parents came to the tournament room to celebrate with their victorious son.
As a further quirk of fate, the dealer of Pobal’s winning hand was the very same man, Richard Neilson, who dealt the winner to Coren Mitchell, all the way back in Sanremo. If you want a double champion, he’s your man.
With that, we say goodbye to the European Poker Tour for this decade. You can check out your options for next year now. What a way to finish.
EPT Prague 2019 Main Event
Date: December 11-17, 2019
Entries: 1,154 (inc. 294 re-entries)
Prize pool: €5,596,900
1 – Mikalai Pobal, Belarus, €1,005,600
2 – Norbert Szecsi, Hungary, €598,880
3 – Ricardo Da Rocha, Brazil, €421,450
4 – Gaby Livshitz, Israel, €316,780
5 – Tomas Paiva, Portugal, €241,230
6 – Luke Marsh, UK, €177,420
7 – Laurent Michot, France, €134,610
8 – Dietrich Fast, Germany, €96,100